Since taking on this challenge of writing something on the theme of compassion, I have gone through many approaches about what to say. I read a lot about the research being done, the scientific evidence as to what parts of our brain are involved and how our bodies are affected by the practice of compassion, and what other people are saying. My tendency is to hide in the definitions, research, and scientific aspects. Well, I decided to use only a few quotes that I hope will speak to your experience and to share a personal experience of mine.
Emotion researchers have defined compassion as “the feeling that arises when we are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.”
This poem from Hafiz, offers us another perspective:
Even after all this time
The sun never says to the earth,
“You owe me.”
Look what happens with a love like that,
It lights the whole sky. –Hafiz
I first heard this poem read in a yoga class. It inspires me over and over again to softly and steadily open my heart, allowing compassion in to myself and offering it out to others. The unconditional love, acceptance, and non-judgement expressed by this poem are all a part of compassion.
Choosing a profession in bodywork, I wanted to help people with their physical ailments. I studied hard and learned the sciences well. I stayed within a scientific approach, more out of fear and self-doubt, but also believing it was the right way. Soon, I recognized that there was more to this profession than the “right technique”, but I didn’t know what it could be or how to “get it”. Working this closely with people brought with it the need for me to develop and expand what I came to understand as my capacity for empathy and compassion. My unresolved emotions surfaced and I began to recognize them and their effect on my everyday life and relationships. Still, I held onto the scientific approaches and explanations. It was easier to let my mind create strategies, opinions, and emotions. Slowly, I began to see, although I thought I was a compassionate person, that I was distant in my personal, working, and client relationships. I came to realize I was dissociated from my own feelings. Gradually, with a lot of help on many levels and the compassion from the people around me, this has changed. Their compassion built a bridge across the gap. Their compassion extended a loving invitation to walk onto the bridge and begin softening the distance; to connect with myself and with them. It was up to me, but the support was steadily there. With guidance, a process of acceptance and integration began by first finding compassion for myself. Allowing qualities of love, gentleness, honesty, good-heartedness, clarity, curiosity and acceptance into my life supported this process of letting go of my fear and slowly opening my heart.
Compassion is a powerful heart-opener!
Opening, we allow space for what is presently here without pushing away the suffering or difficulty. Compassion allows this space for healing to occur, bringing the darkness into light, moving the sorrow into happiness, the dislike into love. Compassion can be the bridge toward recognizing that we are all drops in the same ocean. We share a “field of perception and resonance.”
When we begin with ourselves, practicing self-compassion, we can then extend genuine compassion and warmth toward others. Then we can enter into a kinship with the dilemmas of others. Then we can listen with and offer compassion.
I began to learn what Pema Chodron explains – “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”
I also realized one of my greatest teachers of compassion was not human. She was a cat named Abby. Whenever I was sad, frustrated, in pain, or in some sort of distress she would just come without my asking and sit with me (or on me.) Sometimes she would look at me, sometimes not, but her presence and compassion were unmistakable. She always knew when I began to feel better and then would leave.
To practice compassion for yourself and others, start where you are and then allow the capacity to expand. May you awaken to the many opportunities for expressing kindness and compassion in everyday encounters.
See for yourself what can happen with a love like that.